1. Religion & Spirituality

Discuss in my forum

Austin Cline

William Lane Craig: Genocide & Infanticide are OK if God Orders It

By May 25, 2011

Follow me on:

Many Christians present their religion and their Bible as the best (if not the only) guides to morality. Some go so far as to claim that atheists have no basis or standards for morality because they don't believe in God and don't follow the Bible. One problem with this argument (and there are many problems) is the fact that the Bible depicts God ordering some pretty atrocious acts. So... are such acts "moral" when done under orders from God and if so, how does this make Christians more "moral"?

This is a tough dilemma and most Christians try to avoid it. William Lane Craig, though, is a "serious" theologian who doesn't shy away from tough dilemmas. He's tackled directly and argued directly that it's quite alright for Christians to engage in genocide and infanticide whenever instructed to by God. And presumably it would be further proof of the lesser morality of atheists for objecting to such behavior and trying to stop Christians from following God's orders.

And don't forget: whenever Christians insist that atheists are ignoring "serious" theology and "serious" arguments, the theology and arguments of someone like William Lane Craig is exactly what they have in mind.

These stories offend our moral sensibilities. Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment's fitting the crime. The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel's God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures. ...According to the version of divine command ethics which I've defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn't issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.

For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.

Source: Reasonable Faith

If God "has no moral duties" and no "moral obligations" or prohibitions, it really makes no sense to call God "moral" in the first place. What William Lane Craig is describing here is a completely amoral being -- a being that cannot even conceive of morality, much less act morally and exist in any sort of moral relationship. It's little wonder, then, that it would be described as massacring large numbers of people without second thought or a tiny twinge of the conscience. It has no conscience. No empathy. No moral sense whatsoever.

That would all be bad enough, if such a being existed, but William Lane Craig goes farther by insisting that we all somehow have a moral obligation to do whatever this amoral being commands. Why? Simply because it commands it -- not because it's a "moral" act but simply because this being is too powerful to oppose. That's the length and breadth of William Lane Craig's conception of morality: blind obedience to whomever or whatever is most powerful and in control.

Of course, the average adult would and should find such a position repugnant, which is why Craig hastens to justify killing the Canaanites on different grounds altogether. If Craig had real courage of his convictions he'd be fine with stopping at the above; because he doesn't, though, he needs to include justifications that might appeal to normal sensibilities. Since he has nothing valid, though, all he can do is blame the victims: that's right, the Canaanites could be slaughtered simply because God commanded it... oh, and by the way, they totally deserved it anyway.

By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice. The Canaanites are to be destroyed "that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God" (Deut. 20.18). God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel. ...

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Oh, pity the poor Israelites who had the difficult task of murdering in the name of their God. The adult Canaanites got what's coming to them and the infants went to heaven, so everyone ended up better off... except the instruments of God's Will who evidently suffered PTSD and needed extensive counseling sessions to get over their tough work. Maybe we should take up a collection for them or something?

Greta Christina explains what's going on at the heart of William Lane Craig's position:

Religion, by its very nature as an untestable belief in undetectable beings and an unknowable afterlife, disables our reality checks. It ends the conversation. It cuts off inquiry: not only factual inquiry, but moral inquiry. Because God's law trumps human law, people who think they're obeying God can easily get cut off from their own moral instincts.

And these moral contortions don't always lie in the realm of theological game-playing. They can have real-world consequences: from genocide to infanticide, from honor killings to abandoned gay children, from burned witches to battered wives to blown-up buildings.

Faith-based violence is a problem -- a real problem all over the world and with pretty much every religion. Even religious apologists who insist that religion doesn't cause violence readily admit that there is far too much violence associated with religion and being justified by religion. Here we have a perfect -- and perfectly horrific -- demonstration of how and why that happens. William Lane Craig is saying that absolutely anything, even genocide and infanticide, is morally just and right so long as God is ordering it.

This isn't any sort of esoteric, philosophical discussion. It has "real world consequences" because there are people out there in the real world -- here and now, not in the past -- who are killing others and justifying their crimes by insisting that it's what God wants. Craig may not be openly advocating things like assassinating abortion providers and honor killings, but he's providing the support of "sophisticated" theology.

May 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm
(1) Same Stuff says:

Yet another example of how Christianity is completely inconsistent.

May 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm
(2) Liz says:

It seems that WLC is arguing from the conclusions he wants:

(1) God is good and serves as the source of all morality.
(2) God did some acts that humans consider immoral, like genocide.
(3) Find ways to justify (2) so that (1) can still be true.

May 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm
(3) Karen says:

How can a moral person believe in a deity that has no moral obligations?

May 27, 2011 at 10:06 am
(4) ChuckA says:

This Post reminds me of the William Lane Craig/Christopher Hitchens debates; which one can rather readily find posted, in parts, on YouTube.
Speaking of YouTube…
Here’s a link to an excellent…perhaps the best…YouTube summary of Hitch’s various debate remarks…
“Christopher Hitchens – The Best of the Hitchslap” (posted 10/4/10):
[Length: 15 min.]

NOBODY, IMHO, consistently hits the anti-religious “bulls-eye marks”…whilst simultaneously taking the obvious existential public risks…like Christopher Hitchens.
I’m, personally, hoping he remains with us for a VERY long, long, time to come!
He, like Dawkins, and a few others I could name, are absolutely irreplaceable.
“What!…Thank ‘Zeusie’…or maybe…’the Flying Spaghetti Monster’ [PBUH! (i.e. Parmesan be upon Him!)]…or, perhaps, the Event Horizonís ‘Orbiting Teapot’…
for Christopher Hitchens!” ;)

May 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm
(5) Nguyen says:

How can we argue with “believers”? Any moron can believe in anything. But it doesn’t mean that we should stop.

May 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm
(6) Steve Gray says:

If it’s ok for a believer to murder if God tells him to, it’s ok for an atheist to murder if no God tells him to. As an atheist, I think I’ll go out and start right now.

Craig’s moral beliefs are lower than whale crap.

May 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm
(7) Joan says:

So how can William Lane Craig ever say a woman getting an abortion is wrong? How does he know that his god didn’t tell her to do so?

May 29, 2011 at 5:37 am
(8) Doc says:

One major problem… even if you grant the existence of god, hesheorit has this incredible knack of hiding from all of us. Thus all events in nature are perfectly explainable from the viewpoint that god does not exist. Thus each believer comes up with a different god to believe in. WLC’s god may order genocide, but the god worshiped by another does not. So who’s to decide which god, which believer is “right”? We are right back to square on, WLC notwithstanding.

May 29, 2011 at 5:49 am
(9) Sally says:

And ‘god’ pimps underage Canaanite virgins to Joshua’s jihadis too.

God the pedo-enabler!

May 29, 2011 at 2:03 pm
(10) John Halloran says:

Joan is quite right, of course. God, knowing that the fetus in a woman’s womb would grow up to be a new Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or, worst of all, Chris Hitchens might well order her to abort it in order to spare humanity slaughter, torture, imprisonment, or deeply felt, clearly reasoned, eloquently delivered arguments powerfully in support of secularism.

(I second the emotion, ChuckA: hope Chris is with us for a very long time to come.)

June 2, 2012 at 2:03 am
(11) atheists are funny says:

ęThe problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not. In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy.

In fact, ironically, many Old Testament critics are sceptical that the events of the conquest of Canaan ever occurred. They take these stories to be part of the legends of the founding of Israel, akin to the myths of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. For such critics the problem of Godís issuing such a command evaporates.Ľ


Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites#ixzz1wc2azeUn

June 2, 2012 at 8:26 am
(12) Austin Cline says:


So, are you arguing that William Lane Craig is doing a poor job as a theologian and apologist?

February 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm
(13) Somebody says:

I’m not atheist, but you’re right. It’s not possible to justify it and still be sane. This guy is a psychopath who doesn’t question anything he believes even slightly.

May 25, 2013 at 9:25 pm
(14) Dieter says:

you are confused about the bible and what William Lane Craig claims. You are for genocide if you believe in abortion, which you most likely do because you are an atheist and therefore probably liberal. So if you believe abortion should be legal than how can you justify what you are saying about Craig unless you are a hypocrite.

May 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm
(15) JTL says:

I consider anyone believing in a white, bearded sky daddy as insane.

June 2, 2013 at 5:03 pm
(16) Bob says:

Regarding the Israelites and Caananites there is an interesting video on YouTube from an archaeological team working on ruins from that period of Israeli history. The team are Europeans assisted by Israeli scholars and information from Western universities and museums. The preliminary conclusions the team came to was that the war wasn’t between two different cultures but was in fact civil war between factions of the Caananite people. The remains of settlements suggested Caananites were divided into haves and havenots. The dominated and deprived people’s resentment boiled over into civil war. The diggings showed evidence of poor groups of housing and groups of relatively affluent housing. It could be compared with what is happening now in Syria.

The conclusion now is that the later Israelites were the decendents of the deprived Caananites. Another point was that the story of bringing people to Jehovah and destroying pagan idols was also myth. Many different religious idols were found in the ruins. While the bible is an interesting ancient book it comes from a period when the only writing available came with a religious slant. Imagine the Catholic Church had control of all publishing in the world now. What a distorted view we would have of society and history.

June 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm
(17) Marvin says:

Does Dieter’s comment make sense?

The “You are for genocide if you believe in abortion” part is particularly obtuse. I can only assume Dieter calls himself (herself?) a Christian, but if my assumption is correct, what part of the Bible is he (she) referring to? It’s not in any part I’ve found in my several readings.

June 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm
(18) Jeanne says:

Dieter: People who are pro-choice do not necessarily think that abortion is a great idea or that there should be no restrictions on when an abortion can be performed. What pro-choice people are concerned with is the amount of government interference in a woman’s private life.

The pro-life people do being up a valid point when they say that there is another life involved and people on both sides of the issue will probably agree that the mother does have moral and ethical obligations to the growing fetus.

This, of course, has nothing to do with William Craig’s arguments. The dilemma for those who believe in god is that they assign certain attributes to their god. First, that he is all-knowing. Second, that he is all-powerful and third that he is all good. So, they then have to find a way to justify the wanton cruelty and murder either ordered by or committed directly by the “good” god. It is hard to claim that god is the source of morality when he has children torn to pieces by bears for such a trivial reason as making fun of a man’s bald head. In the Old Testament, god wants you dead for just about everything you do, so where is the morality? How can anyone justify childhood cancer? If god is all-knowing, then he knew about the disease and could have prevented it. If he could not prevent it, then he is not all-powerful. If he did not know about it, then he is not all-knowing. And, if he knew about it and allowed the child to go through such misery and pain, he is not in any way moral or good.

So, it is difficult to reconcile the attributes of god with the real world or justify calling him the source of morality.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.